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When competition undermines team unity

By Aaron Dalton Dec. 8, 2021

“Good coaches get players into games,” says Jim Thompson, Founder, and CEO of Positive Coaching Alliance (PCA), an organization dedicated to research-based training for sports coaches. Unfortunately, this principle was neglected by Inglewood High School’s football team, who dealt a devastating 106-0 win against Morningside High School in November. The blowout game drew swift criticism from those claiming unsportsmanlike behavior. By prioritizing beating, rather than respecting, their opponents, the winning team’s toxic culture jeopardizes the ethics of team sports.

The teams were mismatched from the start: Morningside’s 2-8 record did not stack up well to Inglewood’s undefeated season. Justyn Martin, a University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) recruit, threw 13 touchdowns for Inglewood and played all four quarters. Many believe that the game was a blatant example of poor sportsmanship—Inglewood did not play their second-string players and completed a two-point conversion (a risky alternative to kicking for one extra point after a touchdown) when already leading by 104 points. The PCA specifically addresses how honorable coaches utilize mismatched games as important opportunities for substitute players to have game time.

Daniel Choi Art

Several states, including California, have established “mercy rules,” which serve to lessen blowout defeats in the case of one team scoring an insurmountable point differential over another. In football, the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) mercy rule states that if there is a 35 point differential, the clock must run continuously to prevent a runaway scoring event. It is unclear what prompted Inglewood’s head coach, Mil’Von James, to dismiss this rule, which would have limited the severity of the lopsided victory. While CIF mercy rules vary by sport, the premise is the same: there is a point where healthy competition becomes detrimental humiliation.

However, many student athletes tout that mercy rules diminish authentic sportsmanship, which they define with cornerstones of mutual respect and relentless determination.

“Football is a tough sport, and sometimes there can be disappointing losses. I would rather lose to a better team than feel disrespected by them intentionally not playing their best out of pity. However, when a team is so far ahead, it is poor sportsmanship when the coach does not allow the bench an opportunity to play,” Senior Banipal Yaro said.

Ignoring sports etiquette benefits nobody: in the Inglewood game, the winning team’s own players shared similar sentiments of humiliation as Morningside. Dr. Bruce Y. Lee of the City University of New York (CUNY) School of Public Health argued that Inglewood’s behavior discourages athletes from genuinely enjoying the sport. “Unfortunately, our society seems to be filled with people consumed by individual competition without realizing the benefits of cooperation. They do not seem to understand win-win situations,” Dr. Lee wrote.

Poll: Is it ethical to score in a blowout game?

Yes: 79% No: 21%

Compiled by Nicole Mui and Imran Shaikh (105 people polled)

Perhaps the Inglewood game’s greatest flaw was the desertion of one of high school athletics’ essential purposes: player development. When a team neglects developing the entire player roster, this leads to reduced morale, lowering intrinsic engagement in the sport. Competition is healthy and fun, but Inglewood demonstrated an antagonistic culture that may turn athletes away from sports.

Although Inglewood won the game, they lost the single most important thing in team sports: unity.

This tipping point between individual competition and collective cooperation exists beyond just sports. An example from the business world is the recent trial of former blood-testing company Theranos CEO Elizabeth Holmes, whose ambition to develop a catalyzing blood-testing device led to her being accused of placing patients’ lives in danger and misrepresenting her product to investors, according to Insider. Driven by dreams of success, Holmes’ restless determination was present ever since her youth. When running Theranos, her competitive nature imposed controlling standards on her employees: she had assistants track when employees arrived and left each day. This illustrates how individuals can become obsessed with achievement at any cost, losing sight of the greater good.

Individuals do not need to be cheated by monopolistic billionaires to experience the bitter end of competition. Many high schoolers experience overwhelming stress in response to unhealthy academic rivalry. In a 2019 report, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine added students from high achieving schools to their list of “at risk” groups. Youth in these groups face elevated rates of chronic stress, similar to those in foster care or with incarcerated parents.

Despite being an occasional occurrence, blowout games reflect a lost opportunity to work collaboratively to develop player talent. Ironically, in 1990, Lisa Leslie from the Morningside girls’ basketball team (who later became one of the Women’s National Basketball Association’s top 15 players) scored 102 points in the first half of a game against South Torrance High School, resulting in a final score of 102-24. The game ended at halftime because South Torrance’s players felt so humiliated that they refused to come out of the locker room to finish the second half. Over three decades later, Morningside is now experiencing a similar demoralizing defeat in its recent loss to Inglewood.

Steering clear of harmful competition, however, entails reframing one’s attitude to not supposing that there is a limited amount of success available in the world.

While Inglewood’s contentious win exposes the counterproductivity of unethical matches, competition in and of itself can be leveraged for moving forward, motivating people to discover new solutions. When individuals seek higher achievement with healthy competitive mindsets, this can create an environment where every group member hopes that everyone will do well, rather than wish failure upon each other. However, given its subjectivity, discerning the line between what is considered healthy and detrimental is difficult; as Suzuki Association states, it requires finding the balance between being supportive of one’s peers and achieving personal excellence. Steering clear of harmful competition, however, entails reframing one’s attitude to not supposing that there is a limited amount of success available in the world.

Self-determination and overcoming barriers in one’s skill set are admirable goals, and each player should devote themselves to the game and each other. But when a team fixates on demolishing its opponent rather than strengthening its players, it forfeits its honor. Although Inglewood won the game, they lost the single most important thing in team sports: unity.


About the Contributors

Aaron Dalton

Staff Writer

Aaron is a freshman at Leland high school. He is a staff writer for the Charger Account. In his free time, He likes to play basketball with his friends, eat Chick-Fil-A, and travel.

Daniel Choi


Daniel Choi is a freshman at Leland High School and a current artist for The Charger Account. Outside of school, he spends time practicing various art forms, playing tennis, and binge-watching shows at unbelievable speeds.

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